The Author is David Reed, a commercial pilot for over 40 years. Over these four decades he has had many events occur, some interesting, some exciting, a few that were frightening and a lot of misadventures. Every story in this blog is true.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

I Learned About Flying From That

A popular flying magazine has a column in it called I Learned about Flying From That. Recently they revamped it and now it’s called ILAFFT. Brilliant idea, huh? I’ve had my own share of lessons learned. Maybe a better title would be Dumb Things I’ve Done In An Airplane (DTIDIAA). 

One of my first dumb things was when I first got my private pilot license. I took my mom and my brother up for a ride over Niagara Falls. Great view until we headed back. It was now getting dark outside fast, and I had about five minutes total of night flying experience. We were flying back to Akron airport, a little place way out in the country. I could have called approach control and pleaded for help, except I had no idea what the frequency for approach control was. So I’m looking and looking, trying to find this little runway. Suddenly it appears directly below me. Pure dumb luck. I landed nervously and now I had almost twenty minutes of total night time flying experience. 
Later, I get a job flying a small two seat Cessna from Wichita to Hartford CT. It was brand new off the assembly line. As I cruised over the wheat fields of Kansas at only 1500’ I thought I’d try a loop. How hard could it be? I’d seen pilots do loops hundreds of times in the movies. So I pulled back on the control wheel and up & over I went. Farther and farther. Apparently you’re supposed to ease off as you go over the top inverted, a little detail I knew nothing about. As I got inverted that airplane just quit flying. Upside down stall, it starts falling towards the ground a scant 1500’ below me. I see a herd of cows in my windshield. Oh crap! I carefully pulled back on the wheel and manage to pull out of the dive, less than a hundred feet above those cows. I climbed back up, thinking “Never again! Never again!” Did it again six months later. Same result. 

Finally, one day a pilot better than me showed me how to do wing-overs. Those are fun and rewarding when you know how to do them right. Years later we were flying to home base in a KingAir 200 and I said to my copilot, “Hey, want to do a wing-over?” Well we did one and let me tell you, the KingAir 200 HATES doing wing-overs. Never had I felt an airplane so angry in my life. 
I have landed on short, snow-covered runways with a strong tailwind, flown into weather I had no business being in, flown so tired I was actually halucinating. After each of these dumb things I learned a simple yet valuable lesson: Don’t do that again, dumbass. Don’t taxi too close to a chain link fence (that was a bad thing). Don’t taxi out without verifying your fuel load (at least I caught it before I took off). Don’t ever let the bad copilot fly when the airline CEO or FAA is onboard. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of lessons in flying. Some get people killed, some just serve to educate. I haven’t killed myself yet so I guess I’m still in the educational part. I’m older and wiser now and hope to have seen my last dumb mistake. Ha! Yeah, right.... some day a dumb mistake will say to me “Time to retire, dumbass.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

Long Day Into Night

     Business at my company has been very good, and that means everyone is busy. Myself, I'm on call for the medical aircraft most days, a 24 hour watch. When someone does fly a long trip, we have a backup pilot who can take a second trip if one should arise. However, with everyone so busy there was no backup last Saturday. I was it all weekend. 
     I got a call on Friday evening alerting me to a trip to Chicago/Midway for a lung retrieval, scheduled departure at 3:30 am. So I went to bed early and set the alarm for 2 am. When the alarm sounded (much too soon!) I shaved, dressed and dashed out the door. A quick stop at QT for assorted fruit and danishes, arriving at the airport by 2:30. Once there I get notified the departure has been pushed back to 4 am. My copilot is Don, a very competent pilot who has been with us for some time now. We get the KingAir 350i all set to go, line service  puts in 303 gallons of Jet-A to top it off, flight plan filed, all the many details taken care of. Just past 4am the two surgeons and Lisa the coordinator arrive. We load up their gear, start up and taxi out. We blast off into a cloudy night and head north on the departure route, hardly another airplane to be heard. All is quite calm at FL200. Chicago approach amends our routing, Don makes the change, then they say forget that, now do this. Changes made again. We enter the ILS to 31C in the FMS and brief the approach. Approach control says speed at our discretion, and Don wonders what he means by that. "I think he means we are number one for the airport," I speculate. We blaze around onto final and fly down through the rain to the runway. A decent touchdown at 5:21 am, turning off right where we thought we would. We taxi into Atlantic Aviation and, surprise! It's 40 degrees and the wind makes it feel like 20! Nobody has a coat either. The team jumps into their ride and head off to the hospital. We expect them back around 9am so we head to the deserted crew lounge and grab a couple of hours of sleep. At 7 am we borrow the crew car and head to a local diner for a pretty decent breakfast. The team calls, they're delayed. Maybe by 10 am. We head back to the airport and Don goes back to sleep. I'm too wired so I watch COPS on TV for a couple of hours, then head to Panera to pick up some food for the trip home. Hot egg sandwiches and yogurt, doctor's love to eat healthy. Lisa texts me again. 10:30 she says. I wake up Don and tell him that at 10:15 I'll head out and get the clearance and program the FMS, and at 1030 he can put the sandwiches in the microwave for a bit. At 1015 it starts pouring rain. Buckets of cold rain driven by the icy wind. So we wait. At 1030 the team arrives, which is a bit of a surprise. Normally they are late. I head out to the airplane with them while Don quickly heats the food. We get everything loaded just as Don shows up with the hot food and in minutes we are taxiing. Don gets the ATIS and clearance while I run the after start and taxi checklists. We follow a Southwest 737 to the end and in no time we are airborne. Turn right, level at 4000', then 5000', more vectors. Slowly they climb us as we scoot underneath the arrivals at best forward speed. Finally it's up to 19,000' and direct St Louis. It's a nice ride but ATC says there are cells all around the airport, and the view out the window looks like it. We get vectored over top of Lambert Airport and Don, well he must have it good with the Lord because the weather opens up just enough that we get a clear visual approach into Spirit Airport's 26L. A corporate jet is right behind us and the tower want to get another jet out between us, so I ask for 26R instead. We shift over to the right, the guy behind us now has plenty of space and the jet on the ground departs without rush. Don makes a great landing and we quickly taxi to the ramp.  We get all the post flight duties accomplished, head home and an hour later get called for another trip. 

     The next trip is all up in the air. They have two patients (donors) in Springfield. Plan A is to drop off five coordinators, bring blood from patient #2 and the donor patient #1 back to Spirit, then go back down for patient #2 and the rest of the team. Maybe. We repeat the process from the morning flight- preflight, catering, forms filed, etc. We launch into wet skies again, heading west to SGF at 16,000. Normally we go at 20,000' but the pressurization is acting up so we stay a bit lower this time. The satellite weather is also not working so we are using basic radar, and we end up with a line of big red splotches between us and the airport. We find a nice hole and duck through. Luckily the air stays nice and calm. We get a visual into runway 20, land at 5:49 pm and taxi down a wet taxiway to the ramp. With the team loaded in the vans and on their way (the temperature is in the seventies- woo hoo!), we start looking at the schedule again. I'm talking with dispatch on the phone because apparently the second patient/donor isn't stable enough to transport, so this will mean coming back for surgeons to go retrieve the organs in Springfield. We have some time so Don and I head to Bubba's for some of their terrific, meaty ribs. While there the schedule changes again and I talk to the team lead. We decide we'll bring five BBQ meals to them at the hospital because they may be spending the night, then we'll grab the blood samples from them and head back. With food in our bellies and five meals ready to go, we head first to Cox South Hospital where team 2 is. At the ER entrance we meet up with them and drop off their food, then on to Mercy Hospital where team 1 is. Team 1 says their patient isn't looking too good, so we may just bring one donor back and all the team members on one flight. Yet another change! But we are used to it and tell them no problem, we'll be ready whenever they are. Back at the airport the weather in St Louis is looking horrible. Big thunderstorms are fast approaching, threatening to delay us more. We snuggle down in a couple of lazy boy chairs, turn on South Park and wait. And wait. And wait some more. We get notified that they expect to be here at 11 pm with one donor and both teams. We get things all ready, refile the flight plan, study the weather. Looks like the worst will have moved to the east by the time we get there, and the usual route looks like the best way to go. We wait outside for the ambulance. Next to us sits a hugfe business jet, a Global it's called. Nearby the mechanics in the maintenance hangar are working on a 737, making the only sound on this otherwise quiet ramp. We get things set and... wait. And wait. At 11:30 they show up with lights and siren wailing. The donor is a very big guy, the ambulance drivers are two small girls, so most of the team stays outside to help load the patient while Allison and I man the top of the ramp in the cabin. Seems it's Allison's first time, so I give her a quick lesson on what to do. Down below everyone struggles and gets the big guy and all the equipment onto the ramp, no easy task.  Allison & I haul him up into the airplane and onto the platform. She does a fine job of getting her end locked in and the oxygen hooked up while I get my end locked in and the ramp disconnected. While everyone climbs aboard and works on the patient, I get up front and get things started. Power on the bed, engines running, I set the FMS while Don gets the clearance. We taxi out to runway 20, running the necessary checklists as we go. Ready at the end we use a method C takeoff and head off into the wet night at 11:50 pm. Enroute to St Louis and Spirit Airport the radar doesn't look too bad, but as we get closer things start to get better defined. It looks like just some rain but my gut tells me its more than that. A red area starts to develop at 12 o'clock and approach control is letting us deviate as we
see necessary, so I turn a big fifty degrees right. The clouds we are in are thick, wet and glow a gold color, lighted from the ground below. Lightning begins flashing quite often and quite close. Most of it is just east of us, barely. Some more on our right and some on our left too, but we're moving past that. It's kinda surreal, but we are completely on top of this, carefully picking our way around with checklists and adjustments all made in a timely fashion. God help me, I live for this sort of thing. We turn back east, then start getting vectors to the ILS. I got the speed way back to 200 kts but the ride is surprisingly smooth, all things considered. Down to 4000', then 3000', then 2500'. Through the mess we get an occasional glimpse of the city and suburbs below us. Approach Control turns us on the approach and at about two miles out we get the runway in sight. We land at a corrected 112 kts and roll down the wet runway through the rain to the turn off, then into the ramp, our flashing lights and bright white landing lights illuminating a million raindrops. We park and the ambulance pulls up close. The ground crew bring out lots of umbrellas, we get the patient unloaded fairly quickly. Two people go with him in the ambulance, everyone else heads home. We help the ground crew put the plane in the hangar, get all the paperwork done and by 2 am, twenty four hours after I got up, I climb back into bed with a wagging dog by my side and the wife giving me a sleepy welcome home. As I fall asleep, I remember this: I'm still on call for the next flight.